This is a fictional piece written by guest author @footyanchor, give him a follow on Twitter.
I played for Forest from 1997-1999 and fell in love with English football. Unfortunately, we were relegated in my last year at Nottinghamshire and I left reluctantly in pursuit of top-level football. Since then, the club had been struggling in the lower tiers of English football and it was painful to watch at times. While waiting for the right opportunity to go into coaching, I had been doing my badges since my retirement in 2007 and when the Al-Hasawi family came calling, I couldn’t say no.
When I conducted my first training session with the squad, I wasn’t too confident to be perfectly honest. The squad had no decent full-backs, no midfield players who could defend, and our only decent attacking midfielder (Lansbury) was out injured. I saw a couple of positives though – Jack Hobbs looked a commanding presence in central defense, Michail Antonio can beat a man and possesses Rory Delap’s long throw, Britt Assombalonga will score goals for me. It wasn’t all doom and gloom.
I was also told that I wouldn’t be able to make any January transfers due to an impending transfer ban after the club breached Football League’s financial fair play (FFP) rules. That simply meant I had to conduct all my businesses in the summer and it might also mean that the newly constructed squad would take longer to gel and achieve full tactic familiarity. The board handed me a mini transfer war chest of 200,000 pounds and a precise wage budget of 351,845 pounds per week to build a competitive squad for the season ahead. We only needed a back-up keeper, three full-backs, two center-backs, two midfield anchors, two ball-winners, one central attacking midfield player, two wingers and a solitary striker. Where do we find the money?
Thankfully, the squad had lots of deadwood and we were able to offload eleven slow, lazy and luxury players for a total of 4.5 million pounds, leaving us with considerable room to operate on the transfer market. With limited funds and reasons from the players’ point of view to join a championship club, majority of my recruits were brought in from the Scandinavian region and the lower-tier Italian clubs. Ben Amos was brought in on loan from Manchester United to challenge another loanee, Karl Darlow, for the number one jersey. German right-back Benjamin Kessel was brought in for 850,000 pounds and he, together with the quick Michael Mancienne would provide lots of depth on the right of our back four. Moving inside, a pair of center-backs, Michele Rigione and Magnus Troest, was brought in for 600,000 and 450,000 pounds respectively. The problematic left-back slots were filled up by Francesco Migliore and Matteo Ciofani for a total of 800,000 pounds.
To address the lack of balance in our midfield, Calum Butcher and Alexander Juel Andersen were brought in for 250,000 and 300,000 pounds respectively to strengthen our defensive midfield positions. I then added Mads Fenger and Walid Atta as the team’s ball-winners for a total of 1.35 million pounds. I was in particular very delighted to have successfully pulled off a deal to bring Mehdi Abeid in on loan from Newcastle to back Henri Lansbury up in the central attacking midfield role.
The most exciting player was brought in for absolutely nothing (0 loan fee and 0% wage contribution) and I was absolutely elated to find out that Adama Traore had agreed to join us from the mighty Barcelona on a season-long loan. Jacques Maghoma completed our collection of wingers after joining from Sheffield Wednesday for 900,000 pounds. I then wrapped up our transfer businesses for the summer by bringing in unsettled Craig Davies from Bolton for 600,000 pounds to provide depth in our striking options. A number of easy pre-season friendlies were lined up to get the players match fit and also hopefully used to the 4-1-4-1 tactic which I favored heavily. The games were so draggy and I couldn’t wait for the season proper to begin!
Finally, I was managing my favorite team in a competitive game and the boys began emphatically with a 5-1 home victory against troubled Blackpool. New signings Maghoma and Fenger wasted little time to settle by helping themselves to braces of goals. We came crashing back down with a draw and a defeat in our next two away games against Bolton and Bournemouth respectively. Thankfully, via the help of six goals from Assombalonga in as many games, the lads bounced back with a decent run, bagging sixteen points out of a possible eighteen. However, good things always come to an end and the great run of results was eventually brought to an abrupt end by Wigan in a disappointing 0-2 away defeat at the DW stadium.
Like all decent teams, defeats always seem to spark great revivals as the lads showed both resilience and championship form by going on an unbelievable unbeaten run, winning all but six of the next twenty games to go top of the table. Despite missing a portion of this pleasing run of results due to the Africa Cup of Nations, Assombalonga still managed 16 goals and the false nine was looking by far the best goal-scorer in the league. From then on, we stayed top and the last 16 games yielded 34 points to see us emerge champions with an eventual total of 102 points from 46 games. We were the league’s top scorers with 93 goals but I was prouder to boost the best defensive record as we conceded a mere 28 goals throughout the season. Bournemouth was promoted as runner-up and Cardiff grabbed the last promotion spot after beating Watford in the Play-Off Final.
Moving away from the league, the cup competitions could be either pleasingly positive or incredibly disappointing depending on the way you look at it. We managed to overcome all odds and reach both cup finals but ended the campaign empty-handed in anti-climactic ends to the cup runs. The boys certainly showed that they could compete with the top-level teams as we managed to knock out the likes of Liverpool, Man United, Stoke City and Swansea in both domestic cup competitions. However, we came undone in both finals against cash-rich Man City and Chelsea in the Capital One Cup and FA Cup respectively in similar 1-2 defeats. On a positive note and to my pleasant surprise, we qualify for the Europa League! I would never have dreamt of that and this was achieved after we finished runner-up in the FA Cup. Let’s allow this to sink in for a minute – Newly promoted Nottingham Forest will enter the Europa League in the Playoff stages!
Analyzing the players’ performances, it was no surprise seeing goal machine Assombalonga bag the most number of Player of The Match awards (7), one ahead of Fenger and two ahead of Antonio. Britt had been a constant threat for us throughout the campaign and he bagged the Championship Golden Boot award comfortably with 32 goals, 8 goals ahead of his nearest rival Nahki Wells. Apart from his havoc-causing long throws, Michail Antonio had been terrific throughout the year and ended the campaign with an impressive 14 goals and 24 assists to win Sky Bet Championship Player of the Year award. Honorable mentions must also be given to our number one keeper Darlow, towering center-back Hobbs and converted ball-winner Fenger as they were all named in PFA Championship Team of the Year together with Assombalonga and Antonio. Hobb’s partner in crime and Italian center-back Rigione was named among the substitutes. I was also glad to have won the Championship Manager of the Year award but like all generous managers, I would prefer the attention and praise to go to my staff and players.
A summer of considerable strengthening will be vital if we want to survive the monstrous number of fixtures in the upcoming campaign. The likes of Chelsea, Man City, Arsenal and Man United are all waiting to slaughter us in arguably the world’s best league. Adding to that, we will have to travel miles and miles to and fro European nations to play on Thursday nights (if we do manage to get through the qualifiers). It certainly doesn’t get any easier in football and the hard work starts now…